DAVIE, Fla. – “Taking it one game at a time” is a phrase that nearly every coach in the country has committed to memory due to overuse.
But not Tim “Ice” Harris.
The fiery coach, who is back for his third stint running the football program at Miami’s Booker T. Washington, isn’t afraid to look ahead. He isn’t afraid to dream big, and he wants his players to have those visions, too.
“We want our kids to understand we are here to win a title – the national title, not just the state title,” Harris said at the fourth annual Miami Dolphins High School Football Media Day at Nova Southeastern University. “We do the week-to-week thing, but the big picture never disappears because that’s the only purpose why we’re doing this.
“We’re fighting hard to be the national champions – that ain’t no secret. Our kids just said it at the podium. That’s what we want them to discuss. We’re not hiding.”
Harris is 99-10 is eight seasons at BTW, winning the American Family Insurance ALL-USA Coach of the Year honors in 2007. In addition, his 2013 team was ranked No. 1 in the nation.
That history thrills Daniel Richardson, BTW’s sophomore quarterback who said he found out on Twitter in January that the 50-year-old Harris was returning to coach his school.
“I got excited because I’ve known him for a long time,” Richardson said. “I said, ‘Wow!’ ”
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Harris is back at BTW after serving as an assistant coach at the University of Miami – he left after Al Golden was fired and a new staff was hired.
BTW, in Class 4A, has a chance this year to become the first team in Florida history to win five straight state titles.
Miami Central, in Class 6A, also has an opportunity to win its fifth straight state title this year.
But BTW could get there first since its state final would be on Dec. 2 – one week before Central would get to go for the record.
The BTW streak is unique in South Florida because the Tornadoes have won their four state titles with three different head coaches – Harris in 2012 and 2013, his son Tim Jr. in 2014 and Earl Tillman last year.
BTW went 13-1 in 2012 and 14-0 in 2013. The Tornadoes went 14-0 in 2014 under Tim Jr., who is now the running backs coach and running game coordinator at Florida International University.
Last year, the Tornadoes slipped to 9-5, which led numerous media members to disregard them as national contenders for 2016.
That type of talk makes Harris cringe.
“I wouldn’t say we struggled, but it was different for us,” Harris said. “Even if we weren’t there as a Harris family, we made sure we communicated with the educators.”
One of those “educators” is Tillman, a longtime friend of the Harris family who is starting his 15th season at BTW. Harris coached Tillman in high school. And Tillman has remained on his mentor’s staff, moving to assistant head coach now that Harris is back again.
“We have two head coaches really,” Harris said. “(Tillman) runs pretty much everything. He makes sure everything is running the way it has to run.”
BTW seems to be running just fine entering the 2016 season.
Richardson, who said he expected to be a backup last season, emerged as a star after passing for 2,765 yards and 33 touchdowns as a freshman.
“I’ve really seen Daniel develop from his eighth-grade year,” said BTW defensive end/outside linebacker Robert Hicks. “From gaining weight to getting his speed up and making perfect passes, everything he’s doing is better than last year.”
Richardson will have help on offense from senior wide receivers Sharod Johnson (Syracuse recruit) and DeAndre Williams (FIU recruit). The offensive line boasts 6-6, 325-pound Florida commit Kadeem Telfort and 6-2, 285-pound Temple commit Willa Pierre.
The defense will be led by Hicks, an Auburn recruit who had 17 sacks and more than 100 tackles last year. The 6-1, 220-pounder usually lines up on the left side, opposite of Jaquan Beaver, a 6-0, 195-pound junior outside linebacker who had 24 sacks.
Senior cornerback Richard Dames, another FIU recruit, and senior safety Dedrick Mackey, who has 14 college offers, lead the secondary.
With so much talent, it’s no wonder Harris – who said he has never turned down an opportunity to play a higher-ranked team – has scheduled national powers American Heritage and St. Thomas Aquinas for the Tornadoes’ first two games of 2016. The American Heritage game is a kickoff classic so it won’t count but that doesn’t mean the teams won’t play to their fullest.
Aquinas beat BTW 35-3 last year in the season opener for both teams, a humiliating defeat for the proud Tornadoes.
“I’m looking forward to American Heritage,” Hicks said. “But Aquinas – I’m really, really looking forward to that. Last year, Aquinas caught us when we were ready, but we really weren’t.
“This year, we have something for them.”
Other highlights of the 2016 BTW schedule include home games against Central and Columbus and road tests at Southridge and Northwestern.
Along with national powers Aquinas, Central and Heritage, Southridge is ranked No. 15, Columbus was an 8A state semifinalist last year, and Northwestern, a four-time state champ, is down at the moment but has produced current NFL standouts such as Amari Cooper and Teddy Bridgewater.
“We’re trying to win a national championship,” said Richardson, staying on message. “We’re never intimidated by a schedule.”
Richardson said he and his teammates are appreciated by the community as a whole. But BTW, as a public school serving an essentially impoverished neighborhood, doesn’t have the advantages of some of their private-school rivals such as Aquinas and Heritage.
BTW, for example, has just one practice field, and it is far from a work of art, mixing patches of uneven grass with stretches of dirt.
Harris said the community has, from time to time, donated funds to help the program. But Harris said he uses that money to make sure BTW students have the computers and other academic tools needed for success.
“We try to work with what we have,” Harris said, “and make it as safe as possible.”
The patchy field is not the only danger facing the BTW kids, Harris said.
*In high school, the streets are closer to them (than in college),” Harris said. “We have to make sure we’re able to compete with that situation.
“The street is like cancer – it doesn’t go to sleep.”